Toddlers With Hormones

I actually saw a commercial on TV in the wee hours one morning a month ago that made me stop in my tracks and watch, it was so compelling.  It featured a young toddler (you know, the ones who struggle for balance and walk like Godzilla), teetering from side to side in slightly slow motion as he walks down his home’s long corridor toward the glass paneled door.  The ad is for Air B&B and though many thought it creepy, I love it.

That little human, so proud to be up on two legs, struggling to hold his balance as he moves towards the object of his desire (what’s out there in the big world?) reminds me of teenagers getting ready to apply to college.

They say that human development is one big spiral, repeating over and over as we age. Teenagers go through toddlerhood (you’re not the boss of me!) but in a more sophisticated way. They share the same biological imperative to move on up, albeit with much more fear than they had when they were two and learning to literally keep up with the others around them.

When they were two and fell one hundred times learning to stand upright, modern teenagers were greeted by smiles and loving encouragement from the adults around them.  No adult would think of criticizing a little cruiser trying to walk.

But God help them if the same Big Toddlers fall when they are in high school.  All hell rains down on them.  They are most often medicated to adjust their attitude.

I’ve had several students call me in a panic over the past month.  They were over-committed in their senior year and their grades went down this spring after their college acceptance because “I was hurrying to get all I could from my high school experience”, meaning “I was struggling to meet everyone’s expectations of me.”  The colleges they committed to on May 1 were suddenly not as committed to them.

It used to be that seniors’ grades slipped due to ‘senioritis‘, as they blew off school to do nothing.

Now their grades drop as they try to finish the many commitments they developed in order to please the adults in their world and get admitted to college.

Sorry, college admissions colleagues, but you guys are culpable here.  You can’t expect teenagers to be perfect over-achievers in order to give you bragging rights when you admit them and then cut them off when they struggle to keep up at the end.  Kids live in the real world where things are complicated and genuinely unforgiving.

Admissions officers live in a vicarious one, making decisions on applications – not real humans – and think they understand KidWorld because they read so many essays.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids will always tell admissions officers what they think they want to hear.  They inflate their applications and have many other adults write their essays.  I’ve experienced applicants one way as an admissions officer and a completely different way as an educational consultant in the trenches with them.  All admissions officers should spend a year or two as an independent consultant before becoming Gatekeepers again so they can get rooted in the reality of applicants’ lives.

The focus on pleasing the Gatekeepers (admissions officers) supercedes everything because in this era, it’s about spin.

Kids just want to keep moving and are doing what adults tell them is necessary to get in.  Admissions officers want to admit “the best” to leverage their position on USNWR and to brag to their board of trustees, alumni and specific audiences.  Gone are the days of the real and true ‘match’.  It looks to me that all of the nations’ best universities, maybe even including my own beloved MIT, have been usurped by a business model and so are driving down the wrong road, however well-intentioned.

If all of us adults involved in college admissions would see applicants as Big Toddlers (or better yet, Toddlers with Hormones), we would be more likely to do things right and train the next generation of human beings to revel in their authenticity.

And their authenticity is why they have come.

Don’t Let the News Affect Your Joy

I know the deaths of so many children in CT is unbelievable.  It’s even worse than unbelievable.  It’s heinous, heartbreaking, horrifying.

As the news of this is breaking, so many are being admitted early to the college of their choice.  They are in hog heaven and should be, since they’ve worked so hard for this moment.

As awful as this sounds, this is how life is…it goes on.

I have lost many loved ones in my life.  And each time someone close dies, it’s a shock when the world goes on, as if my parent or sibling or loved one didn’t matter in the most existential way…when my world has come to a complete halt.  Or at least that’s how it seems.

If your child was admitted somewhere early, please make an effort not to talk about this awful tragedy.  Let them enjoy the moment without guilt or disappointment.  Let them have their day.   It’s OK for your family to rejoice even as other families are experiencing the worst news possible.

I send the families involved Light and love, and every Sacred Being I can muster, to carry the families through.  I have been through a few worst moments but nothing can compare to the pain of the parent of a 6 yr old who was murdered.   Unbelievable.  Unspeakable.

Hey, That Mistake Was One of My Best Creative Moments

I’ve had quite the 6 weeks.  Somebody somewhere posted the old story on Facebook about my resignation from MIT in 2007 as if it happened yesterday and many people chose to write to me with great emotion about that.  I got snarky tweets referencing me, hate mail from FB people I don’t even know, fan mail from FB people I don’t even know, and lots of phone calls from people I do know sending their love and admiration to buffer the vitriol.  This went on for several days around my birthday and I was struck by two things: how easy it is to manipulate crowds and how mistakes from the past are never allowed to be over, both compliments of social media.

Perhaps you are a more perfect version of me, but I’m guessing you’ve done a few things in your day that you wouldn’t want the world to know about, much less find exposed on the front page of the NYT.  As awful as my 15 minutes of fame was, it fulfilled its purpose of deepening my humanity, not by breaking me but by breaking me open in compassion instead.  When I do read the Times now and see the public scourging of others, my heart goes out to them and I send them a whole legion of angels to protect and carry them through. No one knows the hell they are living.

It bears remembering that we human beings are designed to make mistakes.  And because of this, we all deserve salvation. Period.

Moreover, consider the possibility that we Homo Sapiens were actually designed to create through mistakes, that our best creativity comes from our screw-ups.  Now that’s a mind-bender.  So once a mistake serves its purpose, it’s done and finished, water under the bridge.  Sorta like #36 of the 449 times we stood and fell trying to walk as toddlers.  Why remember that forever with shame when the fall was actually building neurons for balance so we could walk upright for the rest of our lives?

I’m choosing to let my mistakes serve their purpose.  I’m writing another book.

If you are someone wont to throw a dart at someone you don’t know because you don’t like what you think they did, hold your fire and ask yourself this question instead: “What part of me does this thing I hate and wish to see punished in the other? ”  How about you forgive that part and pay attention to how it’s actually trying to serve you?

In this Era of the Cyborg, let’s go all counter-culture and experience the pure pleasure of being imperfect for a change.

And then let’s get about the business of creating our lives for real.

Judgment or Discernment?

I’m hate to admit this, but I have always been harshly judgmental.  I was raised that way and had this skill finely honed through a career in college admissions (did you know that judgment is an occupational hazard of admissions?).  Mostly I was unconscious about its toxicity.  But in all honesty, it did serve me by keeping others who might hurt me at bay.  Ah, judgment is such a great defense…

Judgment seemed to be my friend and ally until I fell and was exposed publically to the judgment of others.  As you can imagine, it doesn’t feel good to have strangers judge you.  It feels so unfair.  Ah, karma…

Once I experienced the destructive power of judgment, I made a promise to change and I have.

I’m careful now to hold my tongue when I want to put others down.  I recognize that what I want to judge in others is what I hate in myself.

Discernment, however, is important.  It’s often mistaken for judgment but they are very different.  Judgment is mean and wants to lash out.  Discernment is seeing what you see with no story attached.  Judgment creates a one-upsmanship (“I would NEVER do such a thing because I’m a better person.”)  Discernment is an awareness of what is and offers the opportunity to make another decision.

So now we have the Paula Deen situation.  Judgment makes us want to lash out at her for being bad, wants us to write mean things about her and cancel all of her business contracts to punish her for things she said and did in her past.  Judgment spins a bigger story here (she’s Southern, she was a closet diabetic even as she was cooking up food to clog our arteries, she’s greedy, she’s evil, blahblahblah) and wants to see her humiliated.  Discernment watches with no opinion, knows Paula Deen is mortal like the rest of us and that all humans are imperfect.  We’ve all said and done things that society would not approve of.  Discernment knows that ‘imperfect’ does not mean ‘bad’.  Discernment offers compassion to Paula even as it reviews and maybe resets our inner compass around our own behavior.

College admissions provokes a lot of judgment.

Parents often judge their children for not being smart enough or ambitious enough or conscientious enough etc etc as they begin to compare their children to college admissions standards.  One parent I know literally burst into tears when she heard her daughter’s SAT scores, crying “I thought you were smart.”  As you can imagine, this didn’t help her daughter at all.  The daughter felt shame for “letting my Mom down and making her cry.”   I wanted to hunt her mother down and give her a good slap but that wouldn’t help her mother at all.

I appeal to parents now.  Drop the judgment and switch to discernment.  Discernment carries no story.  It sees what is.  If your child’s scores don’t fit a certain college’s profile, look for a college where they will fit instead of blaming your child.  SATs tell us nothing of value.  Truth.  If your child’s rank isn’t as high as you’d wished or if they didn’t end the year well, attend to the cause with no story attached.  It is what it is.  Judgment will choke off any encouragement for them to do their best.  Judgment is the death of confidence and confidence is the single most important attribute your child needs to go into the world every day.

Discernment is your real friend and ally.  Time to get to know it well.

Loving Wastefully

I recently had the honor of listening to a lecture by John Shelby Spong, a well-known retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who spoke clearly and forcefully about the role religion plays in spreading prejudice.  Having been raised Catholic in the ‘50s, and then frustrating my parents by adopting feminism at age 17, thereby rejecting any religion that is not built upon the equality of all humans, I listened carefully with great curiosity, for I’d heard that Bishop Spong was ‘special’.  You could hear the proverbial pin drop among the hundreds in that auditorium as the Bishop, a deeply revered and thoroughly modern man despite his position in his church’s hierarchy, spoke to us about the oneness of all human beings.  Even I gave him a standing O at the end.  It was magic.

He told us that science has proven that we are all one, for humans share 99.9% of the same DNA.  And then there is quantum physics and the oneness principle.  Yeah, yeah, yeah….I’ve heard that before and didn’t need to be convinced.   So I enjoyed his story telling and overall relaxed presentation style.  I especially liked how he spoke in full paragraphs.   Very impressive.

But the concept that grabbed my attention and literally put me on the edge of my seat was at the end, when he suggested that we “choose to love wastefully”.  Huh?  Wastefully?  Isn’t waste a sin?  (hmm…is that in the ‘mortal’ or ‘venial’ category, I wonder?)

He recommended that in these times of turbulence and fear we generate love for all living things, greeting the details of our worlds with love and compassion, regardless of where the love lands and whether or not it is returned.   He used the word ‘wastefully’, I think, to suggest another meaning for the term ‘unconditionally’, because so few of us really understand that idea, having been raised in a world of duality – right/wrong, up/down, yin/yang, etc.   This is not a planet of unconditional love.  We must create it.

How, exactly, do we love without the promise of it being returned and why does that matter?

Even more importantly, why am I writing about this now?

When our children apply to college, our parental claws come out to protect them from the process of judgment and possible rejection.  We don’t want them to be rejected.  We don’t want them to be hurt.  So sometimes in our zeal to protect, we contract and move into a less loving stance toward everyone in our world.   We may envy other people whose children are admitted to dream schools or resent the ones who seem to breeze through the college process without so much as a hair out of place.

This contraction is exactly the opposite of what our children need at this moment.

They need as much extravagant, wasteful love as they can get while they are being exposed to the judgment of strangers who do not know how precious they are.

So this holiday season, join me in my plan to ‘love wastefully’.  Give it away.  Love anyone in sight.  Give them your respect and your care, a smile or kind gesture.

For we also know from life that what we give out comes back to us.  Love begets love.


First Aid for College Applicants: Esteeming

Another cycle of college admissions has begun and I’m so struck by the deep fear of students and their parents in the runup to the application deadlines.  I offer the usual excellent advice (take it slow, one step at a time, get lots of sleep) but see how often it goes in one ear and straight out the other.  Yeah, no kidding.  I get it.  I’ve been plenty scared in life myself.

So I’ve hit on an important concept I want to encourage you to use as your child is in the throes of applying to college.  I call it ‘first aid’ to stop the hemorrhaging of confidence that is inevitable this time of year.

I encourage you to amp up your esteeming of your child.


You might feel resistance at first.  One parent rolled her eyes when I gave her this advice and said, “Oh brother. Aren’t they esteemed enough?”  Made me smile.  But here’s the thing…actually, no.  They aren’t esteemed enough right now.

You can’t possibly understand the scary nature of your child’s world during this moment in time.

They are expected to master the most rigorous curriculum ever offered in the US (thanks to confluence of the knowledge explosion afforded by the internet and the accountability movement of No Child Left Behind).  They are expected to provide evidence of leadership sustained over time for college admissions officers who are partial to that kind of person.  These same admissions officers expect to see full-blown, highly-perfected humans among their applicant pool of teenagers who, for the most part, are far from it.  Students hear snippits of information about admissions that scare them and then, like all people, they connect the dots and make stuff up about how college admissions works.  Except that it doesn’t work that way and they are working off of bad information.  They are connected to each other 24/7 through technology in ways we aren’t.  Social media sucks them into mob mentality.  As teenagers, they want to fit in and be accepted for who they are all the while they have yet to grow into social confidence, like puppies who are growing into their paws.  They have pimples and body issues as they transform into adults.  Their hormones are fluctuating, causing moodiness and angst and a general sense of careening out of control.  They are trying to please everyone and to be seen as special when they really don’t feel special at all.

In short, teenagers aren’t finished yet.

So I am urging parents to offer your children ballast.  Be extra gentle with them now. Praise them for what they do right and bite your tongue when they screw up.  Ease up a bit.  Love them, even if you have to take out their baby pictures to remind yourself how perfect they were then because as teenagers they are sometimes a pain in the butt.  😉

This is their initiation into adulthood.  It is hard to put years of your life on the line to be judged by strangers using rules you will never understand in such a public way.  We adults have never been where they are because our world was so much safer.

Amp up the esteeming and you will see how they relax back into you.  It will change everything.